Friday, June 10, 2011

Spartacus and Submission to Authority

I've begun watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a TV series about the exploits of a certain gladiator given the nickname of "Spartacus." Once a free man, he was forced into gladiatorial servitude by unfortunate circumstances. Though the show is drenched in violence and immorality, I was reminded by it of a certain passage of Scripture, written by the Apostle Peter, which reads:

"Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly" (1 Pet. 2:18-19).

Submission to authority is rooted in the 5th Commandment of the Decalogue which commands us to honor our parents. A key aspect of this command is that it is one of the means by which God enforces order and harmony in human society. Since God is the God of order and system, He has ingrained in the very fabric of human constitution this principle of submitting to authority by virtue of it as an expression of His moral will.

Another fascinating aspect of submission to authority is that it is Christlike. Paul, speaking of Christ's submission to the authority of the Father, states:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8).

So, in fact, submission to authority is also one of the ways by which we are shown to be analogues of God, "for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

Of course, human authority, enforced as it is by sinful human beings, is oftentimes abused, and one is not mandated by God to submit to expressions of human authority that violate the other parts of His moral will, just as a believer who was constrained to fight in the Roman arena was not required by God to obey his gladiator-fighting human master's desire for him to chop heads off—though one must not give in to the temptation of unduly equating one's boss at the office to the latter, even if his name happens to be Mr. Quintus Lentulus Batiatus. LOL.

"He first would have servants to be subject with all fear; by which expression he means that sincere and willing reverence, which they acknowledge by their office to be due. He then sets this fear in opposition to dissimulation as well as to forced subjection; for an eye-service (ὀφθαλμοδουλεία, Colossians 3:22,) as Paul calls it, is the opposite of this fear; and further, if servants clamor against severe treatment, being ready to throw off the yoke if they could, they cannot be said properly to fear. In short, fear arises from a right knowledge of duty. And though no exception is added in this place, yet, according to other places, it is to be understood. For subjection due to men is not to be so far extended as to lessen the authority of God. Then servants are to be subject to their masters, only as far as God permits, or as far as the altars, as they say. But as the word here is not δοῦλοι, slaves, but οἰκέται, domestics, we may understand the free as well as the bond servants to be meant, though it be a difference of little moment.....Though as to the duty of servants to obey their masters, it is wholly a matter of conscience; if, however, they are unjustly treated, as to themselves, they ought not to resist authority. Whatever, then, masters may be, there is no excuse for servants for not faithfully obeying them. For when a superior abuses his power, he must indeed hereafter render an account to God, yet he does not for the present lose his right. For this law is laid on servants, that they are to serve their masters, though they may be unworthy. For the froward he sets in opposition to the equitable or humane; and by this word he refers to the cruel and the perverse, or those who have no humanity and kindness." (John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Peter 2:18)

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what he would say about modern employer - employee relationships then. Probably , if I read this aright, he would not be impressed that we accept as normal the right for another to enter the relationship in order to subvert the authority of the employer. Nor that employees now consider it a normal thing to bitterly complain about their treatment by even reasonable employers. For many today an "good" employer is an indulgent one - and one who (in that way) only survives in business by having a monopoly of the goods or services and exploits the customer.


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